Bessie Rayner Belloc

Bessie Rayner Belloc

Bessie Rayner Parkes, the daughter of the solicitor, Joseph Parkes, was born in 1829. Her grandfather was Joseph Priestley, the scientist and political reformer who was forced to leave the country in 1774. Bessie's father was also a Unitarian with radical political views and was a close friend of reformers such as Henry Brougham and John Stuart Mill.

In 1846 Parkes met Barbara Bodichon, who was running a progressive school in London. The two women became close friends and over the next few years wrote several pamphlets on women's rights, including Remarks on the Education of Girls (1856).

Parkes and Bodichon felt that there was a need for a journal for educated women and in 1858 they founded The Englishwoman's Review. Parkes became editor and over the next few years she made the journal available to writers campaigning for women doctors and the extension of opportunities for women in higher education.

Parkes continued to publish pamphlets and in Essays on Women's Work (1866) she argued that the laws of the country were based on the assumption that women were supported by their husbands or fathers, but with a shortage of men in the country, this was becoming less likely to happen. Parkes therefore suggested that it was necessary to improve the standard of education for girls.

In 1866 Parkes joined with Barbara Bodichon to form the first ever Women's Suffrage Committee. This group organised the women's suffrage petition, which John Stuart Mill presented to the House of Commons on their behalf.

On a visit to France in 1867, Parkes met Louis Belloc. The couple fell in love and decided to marry. Both families objected to the couple getting married. Belloc was younger than Parkes and had been an invalid for thirteen years. Barbara Bodichon also advised against the relationship but the marriage went ahead.

After Louis Belloc died of sunstroke in 1872, Bessie returned to London with her two children. Belloc had abandoned her Unitarian beliefs and was now a member of the Roman Catholic Church. She was also no longer interested in women's rights. Her daughter, the successful novelist, Marie Belloc-Lowndes, showed little interest in the suffrage movement, and her son, Hilaire Belloc, was one of Britain's leading anti-feminists, being opposed to both women having the vote or experiencing higher education.

Bessie Rayner Belloc died in 1925.


Bessie Rayner Belloc - History

M.Litt, University of Lisbon under the name Ana Vicente, author of numerous studies including Women in Portugal at the Turn of the Millennium(1998), Portugal in Spanish Eyes: Diplomatic Correspondence, 1939 -1960 (1992)

With a commendatory foreword by Professor Bonnie Anderson, CUNY Graduate Center

Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829-1925) was one of the most prominent and influential campaigners for women’s rights in the nineteenth century and her life and work are of remarkable interest. She is described by the American historian Bonnie S. Anderson as one of the key British feminists of her time. Surprisingly, Turning Victorian Ladies into Women is her first biography.

The author, a great-granddaughter of BRP, has made full use of previously unseen family papers and illustrations as well as of much unpublished material in the archive of Girton College, Cambridge, and in other archives on both sides of the Atlantic. The biography is about 120,000 words in length and includes 27 illustrations.

BRP’s wide circle of literary and political friends included George Eliot, Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Barbara Bodichon, Lord Shaftesbury, Herbert Spencer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Thackeray, Elizabeth Garret Anderson, John Ruskin, Henry W. Longfellow and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Her most fruitful friendship was with Barbara Bodichon for, out of their efforts, grew the first organized women’s movement in Britain. Their first endeavour was to change the restrictive property laws that applied to married women. BRP was also indignant about the distinction made between ‘ladies’ and ‘women’. ‘Ladies’, that is to say middle-class women, lost social status if they earned money, the only acceptable exceptions being writing, painting or teaching, which for the most part meant ‘governessing’. In her struggle, she had to face pervasive and virulent anti-feminism. Due in part to her efforts, it became acceptable for a middle-class woman to acquire a proper education and train to do paid work. Working-class women had always belonged to the work-force, whether they wanted to or not.

A great-grandchild of the scientist Joseph Priestley, BRP was born to loving, well-off parents, in a household interested in people and ideas. Unusually for girls of her background, she was well educated at a progressive Unitarian boarding school. In her writings and in her actions she reveals a strong individual identity. Three interlocking and interdependent factors were present throughout her life story: gender, religion and class. She became acutely aware of the limitations placed on women because they were women, working for their removal religion mattered greatly to her, and influenced her life choices, and as for class she was fully conscious of the subtle or overt differences that resulted from belonging to whatever level of society. Nevertheless, BRP crossed class lines because she also felt committed towards the improvement of the condition of working-class women, including those considered to be the dregs of society, such as prostitutes.

BRP and her friends interacted with women in other countries of Europe and in the USA, adding a very considerable international dimension to their efforts. She herself enjoyed traveling, approaching it as an educational experience, in the spirit of the time. BRP published fourteen books: poetry, essays, biography, memoirs, travel, and literature for children and young people, as well as a very effective booklet on women’s rights and dozens of articles. A lot of her literary work was well received during her lifetime and her poetry was admired by Ruskin and Longfellow.

BRP became the principal editor of the first feminist British periodical – The English Woman’s Journal - published monthly in London between 1858 and 1864. Its closure was due both to financial reasons and to the conflicts that arose among its sponsors and chief contributors, in which spoken or unspoken sexual jealousy also played a role. The offshoots that sprang from it were many and varied, such as the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, the Victoria Printing Press (entirely staffed by women), the Law-Copying Office, and the Langham Place Group, where women gathered informally to discuss their lives or simply have a rest.

Another essential part of her life story was her slow but determined path to the Roman Catholic Church (1864). She took in all the debate around the Oxford Movement but what really impressed her was the immense amount of social work carried out by nuns. She knew the three famous English Cardinals (Newman,Wiseman and Manning)personally and discussed them in her writings.

Aged 38, BRP fell in love with a Frenchman, called Louis Belloc, himself the son of a notable woman. Their five-year long marriage, spent in France, she described as Arcadia. She never got over his sudden death. The book includes new documentation on the 1870 Franco-Prussian war which deeply hit the Belloc family on a material level. Their children, Marie Belloc Lowndes and Hilaire Belloc, went on to become renowned writers and the book looks at the development of their careers. BRP herself continued to write until late in life, and to be a keen observer of politics and society. However, after her marriage and the death of her husband, her active involvement in the organized women’s movements abated. Anguish over the stupidity of war and pride in her country coloured her feelings during the First World War. Almost at its close, her eldest grandchild, was shot down and killed in France.

Turning Victorian Ladies into Women tells the full story of a remarkable woman who with persistence and humour, mingled with breakdowns and hesitations, worked effectively for social change, as well as being committed to literature, to religion, and to her family and friends.


BESSIE RAYNER PARKES (1829-1925)

Bessie Rayner Parkes was a great-granddaughter of the political theorist, philosopher and father of modern chemistry Joseph Priestley. In early 1846, when she was sixteen, her family moved from Birmingham to 6 Pelham Crescent, on Hastings seafront, where for four years they were tenants of Benjamin Leigh Smith, who lived at no.9. Smith's eighteen-year-old daughter Barbara soon became her best friend.

The teenagers educated themselves in literature and philosophy and often discussed the deplorable way women's lives were constricted legally, educationally and professionally. In 1848 Bessie wrote: 'Don't you wish you were a Man! Sometimes I do, and sometimes I am glad I am a woman that I may help to push on my own sex'. Thus began her eventful decade as a campaigner for women's rights, during which she made several friends of note with Hastings connections, among them Adelaide Procter, Christina Rossetti and Mary Howitt. In 1850 their extraordinarily liberal fathers allowed them to travel abroad together unchaperoned.

Bessie's family came to Hastings because her brother was ill, and soon after he died there in 1850 they returned to London. The 1851 census shows Bessie (Elizabeth R. Parkes) as a 'visitor' staying with Barbara's family at 9 Pelham Crescent.

Excerpt from In a Walled Garden.

In the next year, 1845, the Howitts went to Hastings, and formed a close intimacy with a family with which my parents and I were also shortly to be tenderly and gratefully associated: that of Mr. Benjamin Smith, the member for Norwich. A great domestic affliction caused us to take up our residence in Hastings--where, indeed, we were Mr. Smith's tenants - and until July, 1850, we were almost as one family, sheltered under the magnificent rock of the Castle Hill.

Hastings was not then what it is now the old town was widely separated from St. Leonards, and the lanes leading up to Ore Church were lanes of deep country seclusion. It was here, in 1846-7, that I first heard of the Howitts as a family. Mrs. Howitt's tales and poems had, of course, been familiar to me from early childhood, more especially the exquisite "Sketches from Natural History," containing that ballad beginning "Will you walk into my parlour, said the Spider to the Fly," which has become so much a classic phrase that I have seen it quoted in prose in a political leader, without any reference to the authoress, or to the fact that the quotation formed part of a verse.

If on the one hand we were all full of the distinguished authoress, and her charming eldest daughter Anna Mary, on the other hand here is Mrs. Howitt's allusion to the Leigh Smiths, which will explain a reference in one of her future letters to me. She describes the group of five, of whom the eldest was then eighteen, and the youngest twelve speaks of their carriages and horses, and outdoor life, and of how "Every year their father takes them a journey. He has a large carriage built like an omnibus, in which they and their servants can travel and in it, with four horses, they make long journeys. This year they were in Ireland, and next year I expect they will go into Italy. Their father dotes on them. They take with them books and sketching materials and they have every advantage which can be obtained them, whether at home or abroad. Such were and are our friends the Leigh Smiths, and thou canst imagine how much pleasure we were likely to derive from such a family."

In 1855 "Anna Mary and Barbara" go off to Hastings, and get lodged in Clive Vale Farm, [Ann Samworth's] the place where Holman Hunt had painted his famous picture of the sheep upon the downs. He had made a great mess with his oils upon a certain table, which gave pleasure to the artists who were following in his footsteps!

The first letter which I find I have preserved of Mary Howitt's is dated from this residence, on the West Hill, where they remained many years. It is of December, 1858, and is addressed to my mother, at a moment when I was lying in imminent danger of death. It is too personal for quotation, and I pass on to Good Friday of the year 1865, when Mrs. Howitt writes from West Hill Lodge about a Sussex Guide of mine which she had in her possession. She is about to go to Switzerland, but "that is only perhaps." The note ends thus:--"How the budding leaves and all the amenity of this lovely springtime recall Scalands and those pleasant woods to my mind." She refers to a time which really gave me my last living memory of dear Mary Howitt, though our intimacy may truly be said to have lasted unbroken to the weeks immediately preceding her death, five and twenty years afterwards. I shall ever remain grateful for those spring weeks of 1864, when William and Mary Howitt were living at Scalands Cottage, the English home of Miss Leigh Smith, who had become Madame Bodichon. It was in the April of that year that I met Mrs. Howitt on the platform of the Robertsbridge station. I was going to a kind friend at an old farmhouse known as Brown's, and the Howitts were at Scalands, of which she writes: "Barbara has built her cottage upon the plan of the old Sussex houses, in a style which must have prevailed at the time of the Conquest. It is very quaint, and very comfortable at the same time." And she gives lovely pictures in her letters of those "purple woods of Sussex," then blue with the wild hyacinth, in all the inexpressible tender beauty of the spring. It was there that I was privileged to enjoy my last conversations with Mary Howitt."

Bessie and Barbara began to write articles, some of which were published in radical journals and newspapers, including the Hastings and St Leonards News. She started to speak and write about women's issues and in 1854 published Remarks on the Education of Girls, which advocated women's participation in public affairs. In 1855 Bessie and Barbara formed the first committee whose intent was to campaign against the dire legal position of married women. They collected signatures for a petition supporting a Married Women's Property Bill. The Bill failed but the campaign continued and was eventually successful.

Bessie wrote a few articles for the Waverley Journal which was, most remarkably, edited and published by ladies. She co-founded The English Woman's Journal in 1858 and was its editor. The magazine focussed on education, emigration and employment, giving space to those who believed women should be allowed into higher education and to train as doctors (there was nothing about women's suffrage, which was too revolutionary to be contemplated).

The shilling subscription included the use of a reading and meeting room at its offices at 19 Langham Place. Later a women's employment bureau, reading room, clerical school and the Victoria Press (staffed entirely by females) were appended. With the addition of a coffee shop, it soon became a Mecca for feminists, who became known as the Langham Place group.

Read Bessie's editorial 'A review of the last six years' , in the English Woman's Journal of 1864.

After six years the journal's owners' and contributors' religious and political differences destroyed it. Bessie continued to publish pamphlets. In Essays on Women's Work (1866) she argued that English laws were based on the supposition that all women were supported by husbands or fathers, when in fact this was not the case: the census showed that one-third of the workforce was female. Miss Parkes argued that girls needed education so they did not have to be restricted to governess or needlewoman. For their time, these were radical views. Miss Parkes was a poet but, spending so much time and energy on women's rights she had made only a modest start. A collection of poems, published in 1852, was well-reviewed, and Summer Rambles and other Poems (1854) followed.

In 1866 Bessie and Barbara (by then Madame Bodichon) and their sister campaigners formed the first women's suffrage committee. They organised the first-ever petition of women asking for the vote, collecting 1,500 signatures in a fortnight. John Stuart Mill presented it to the House of Commons on their behalf. It was, of course, doomed to fail, but it was successful in three important ways. Firstly, it identified which women were interested in politics and in women's emancipation. Hitherto, there had been no way of identifying which individual women had such thoughts. Secondly, it incited those women who were approached to think about the subject, which was so revolutionary that many (if not most) had never given it a moment's consideration. Thirdly, the publicity it generated put women's rights onto the political agenda.

Some of her writings were brought together, dedicated to the memory of Anna Jameson and published in 1865 as Essays on Woman's Work.

Throughout her feminist decade Miss Parkes had been engaged to her cousin Samuel Blackwell. Why the marriage was repeatedly postponed is a mystery, but when she became a Catholic in 1864 it was formally cancelled. She declined a proposal from the blind Henry Fawcett, Liberal MP for Brighton (who married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the women's suffrage movement).

In the spring of 1867 Bessie and Barbara holidayed together in France. Here they met thirty-seven-year-old barrister Louis Belloc, a semi-invalid. Despite Barbara's strong opposition, Bessie married him in September, leading to a complete estrangement between the two women. Bessie's Catholicism, her marriage and her living in France completely destroyed her feminist beliefs.

Mrs Belloc had her first child at thirty-nine and her second two years later. Her children's births coincided with her publications La Belle France (1868) and Peoples of the World (1870). After living in France for five years, they fled to London during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870

1 and can be seen here living in Westminster in the 1871 census.

In 1872 Louis died of sunstroke, leaving Bessie a penniless widow with two small children.

In widowhood Mrs Rayner Belloc resumed some of old friendships, and was reconciled with Madame Bodichon. A small inheritance from her uncle Josiah Parkes supported her for a few years, but in 1877, an unwise investment caused her financial near-ruin, and she had to live with her mother in London. At the suggestion of Lady Georgiana Fullerton (see page xx) she rented Slindon Cottage (now The Dower House) and later, being unable to afford the rent, downsized further to Newlands on Church Hill, renaming it The Grange, then moved to Gaston Cottage. Sadly, in 1889 Mrs Belloc's bankruptcy was publicly announced in The Times.

Her poverty was ameliorated by the publication of articles and volumes of essays, which she executed well into her dotage. 'In a Walled Garden' (1895) and 'A Passing World' (1897), collections of reminiscences and historical sketches, contain autobiographical information and her last collection of poems, 'In Fifty Years', was published in 1904 when she was seventy-five.

She died at her home in 1925, aged ninety-five, and was buried in the churchyard of the nearby St Richard's Roman Catholic church.

Both of Bessie's children became famous: her daughter was the novelist Marie Belloc-Lowndes her son the writer and MP Hilaire Belloc. Ironically, he strongly and publicly opposed women having either education or the vote.

Marie wrote a biography of her mother's married life, 'I too have lived in Arcadia: a record of love and of childhood', published by Macmillan in 1941. Her planned second volume, 'Before she found Arcadia', was unfinished when she died. Her daughters Elizabeth Iddesleigh, Dowager Countess of Iddesleigh, and Mrs Susan Lowndes Marques took over the project but did not finish it, passing it instead to a professional biographer, Margaret Crompton, but the families were dissatisfied with the result and declined to publish it.

Copyright 2020 Helena Wojtczak

Girton College holds 18 archive boxes of Bessie Rayner Parkes's personal writings, diary fragments, correspondence and newspaper cuttings.


Bessie Rayner Parkes

Bessie Rayner Parkes Belloc (16 June 1829 – 23 March 1925) was one of the most prominent English feminists and campaigners for women&aposs rights in Victorian times and also a poet, essayist and journalist.

Parkes became the principal editor of the first feminist British periodical – the English Woman&aposs Journal – published monthly in London between 1858 and 1864. Its closure was due both to financial reasons and to the conflicts that arose among its sponsors and chief contributors. The offshoots that sprang from it were many and varied, such as the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women, the Victoria Printing Press (entirely staffed by women), the Law-Copying Office, and the Langham Place Group, where women gathered informally to d Bessie Rayner Parkes Belloc (16 June 1829 – 23 March 1925) was one of the most prominent English feminists and campaigners for women's rights in Victorian times and also a poet, essayist and journalist.

Parkes became the principal editor of the first feminist British periodical – the English Woman's Journal – published monthly in London between 1858 and 1864. Its closure was due both to financial reasons and to the conflicts that arose among its sponsors and chief contributors. The offshoots that sprang from it were many and varied, such as the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women, the Victoria Printing Press (entirely staffed by women), the Law-Copying Office, and the Langham Place Group, where women gathered informally to discuss their lives or simply have a rest. . more


Opposing the Servile State: Belloc & the Free Society

Editor’s Note: The following essay originally appeared as the Introduction to Hilaire Belloc’s classic work. The Servile State, published by Liberty Classics (7440 N. Shadeland, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250). It is reprinted here with the kind permission of Mr. Nisbet and the publisher.

Very early in the first chapter Hilaire Belloc defines J the servile state:

That arrangement of society in which so considerable a number of the families and individuals are constrained by positive law to labor for the advantage of other families and individuals as to stamp the whole community with the mark of such labor we call the servile state.

This is clearly a definition worth pondering, as are the other definitions—capitalism, industrialism, collectivism, socialism, etc.—he offers us in the opening section. For, as requires no emphasis here, we find ourselves in the United States living under a form of government that comes more and more to fit Belloc’s definition of the servile state. What this extraordinary and prescient mind saw early in the century as a small but widening stream has become, through relentless taxation, bureaucracy, and coercive regulation, a veritable torrent in our time. Just as Belloc predicted, we find the real liberties of individuals diminished and constricted by the Leviathan we have built in the name of equality. More and more Americans labor by law to support other Americans.

I chanced upon this book some forty years ago, and bought it because of its arresting title and the author’s name. I confess, I took it with some skepticism, for in 1936, still a student, I had in me a considerable faith in what the New Deal was doing, or claiming to be doing. A few seconds’ flipping of pages in the bookstore was enough to make it evident that the author of The Servile State had, back in 1912, anticipated much of what lay in New Deal legislation, and there was no mistaking his hostility to it.

In any event I commenced reading the book immediately, and its effect on me was profound. It has proved to be among the few books—Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, James Fitzjames Stephen’s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, F. J. Teggart’s Processes of History, and Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy and others—which have had influence on me so great as virtually to turn my mind around. Suffice it here to say that never again, after reading Belloc’s work, did I imagine that there could be genuine individual freedom apart from individual ownership of property. Moreover, the book was the beginning of my personal awareness of the sharp difference between liberty and what it was so many self-styled liberals were seeking, and, alas, still are.

It is interesting to realize that Belloc thought, while writing this book, that the outlook was by no means totally bleak. He could see the servile state coming into existence in England and certain other countries as the result of the separation of enlarging numbers of people from their property, a process that Belloc sees beginning in the Reformation when the Tudors and their aristocratic allies expropriated not only the wealth of the monasteries but also the holdings of tens of thousands of small farmers, leaving them so destitute as to make them the inevitable recipients of the Tudor state’s Poor Law and the victims of this state’s ever-mounting despotism. The results were, Belloc thought, the propertyless masses of the England of his day. Even so, Belloc believed countering tendencies were to be seen in western Europe. He cites, in the Conclusion, France and Ireland as countries in which these tendencies could be seen. “The force of which I have been speaking,” he writes in the final pages, “is not the only force in the field. There is a complex knot of forces underlying any nation once Christian a smoldering of old fires.”

Belloc would not be so optimistic today, and it is only fair to note that well before his death in 1953 much of his earlier optimism had been lost. After all, there had been, following publication of his book, two world wars, with their collectivizing effects upon nations, the emergence of, totalitarianism in Russia, Italy, and Germany, and a steady growth in all the democracies of a managerial-collective form of state in which, under the labels of social justice and humanitarianism, the liberties of individuals were declining.

Who at this moment would doubt that in America, as well as in other countries of the West, we are rapidly reaching the point where “so considerable a number of families and individuals are constrained by law to labor for the advantage of other families and individuals” that we can begin to see very clearly indeed the outlines of the servile state? Given the debasement of the language of politics in our time, there are of course many who describe this condition as progress, or as a higher freedom and democracy, or as humanitarianism. But the harsh fact remains: a steadily enlarging number of families and individuals in the United States, and other Western countries, are in the position of being constrained by law, beginning with the progressive income tax but extending to numerous other areas of legal requirement, to labor, not for themselves, but, in Belloc’s words, “for the advantage of other families and individuals,” those who do not work and who enjoy what is called welfare in one or other of its by now diverse forms.

Hilaire Belloc was born in France (La Celle-Saint-Cloud) , July 27, 1870, the son of a French lawyer whose English-born wife (Bessie Rayner Parkes) was active in the early stages of the women’s suffrage movement. Belloc’s education was almost entirely British, beginning in the Oratory School in Birmingham, continuing at Balliol College, Oxford, from which he graduated with the highest honors in history in 1894. He married an American woman (Elodie Hogan) in 1896. In 1902, Belloc became a naturalized British subject, and he even sat for several years (1906-10) in Parliament. He had proved himself an accomplished debater at Oxford, and there is little question that he could have had a distinguished career in politics had he so chosen. But writing was his choice, his mission indeed, and there are not many in the long history of English literature who can match either the extent of his published work or the astonishing diversity of subject and style.

When he died, July 16, 1953, at the age of nearly 83, Belloc could look back upon well over a hundred books and a vast number of casual essays, articles, reviews, and speeches. One of the most controversial figures of his day, he was also one of the most respected, even honored for his learning, insight, wit, and brilliance of literary style. He wrote much history including a four-volume history of England and several historical and biographical treatments of the French Revolution (an event that had almost obsessive influence on Belloc’s mind), but his historical writings occupy a relatively small place in his total bibliography. He was literary critic, social and political analyst, unceasing polemicist in many areas, journalist, novelist, and, far from least, poet. His serious, mature poems will be found in many an anthology of English poetry, but his first venture along this line was in the area of nonsense verse. His The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts, written while still at Oxford, in 1896, created immediate attention and is to this day regarded as a classic.

It is impossible to understand any of Belloc’s writings without beginning with his profound, lifelong Roman Catholicism. This religion had undergone a major renascence beginning almost immediately after the French Revolution, a renascence to be seen in England and the United States, as well as on the Continent. It is doubtful, I should say, that Belloc could ever have reached his own personal influence as a libertarian Catholic had it not been for such nineteenth-century predecessors as Lamennais, Lacordaire, Montalembert, Newman, Manning, Acton, and many others who did so much to restore Rome to an intellectual, and also to a cultural, social, and economic influence it had not had since perhaps the Counter-Reformation.

Belloc’s is the Catholicism of not only those I have just mentioned his is also the Catholicism of Sir Thomas More, who, as we know, was beheaded for his courageous opposition to the selfsame Tudor economic and political policies that Belloc, four centuries later, would attack with such force, and in whose Utopia we find a form of society not very different from that advocated by Belloc. I should add that there is also much in common between Belloc’s social and economic ideas and those contained in the famous encyclicals of Leo XIII in the nineteenth century.

With Belloc’s ardent Catholicism goes a philosophy of history that celebrates the Middle Ages for the abolition of slavery and servile status, for the wide diffusion of property-tenure among the people, and thus a significant degree of individual liberty, and for the efflorescence of learning, art, philosophy, and literature that brought Europe out of the Dark Ages. Belloc sees the Reformation and the capitalism that sprang up with it as the causes of modern despotism and of the economic insecurity that leads to the appeal of socialism, collectivism, and, of course, what he termed the servile state. Freedom dies in all of these forms of the state, but they in turn are made possible, Belloc argues, only by the helplessness of those who have been converted into the propertyless masses.

Belloc’s view of modern Western history is thus one of regress rather than progress of decline of life, liberty, and economic security from the Middle Ages. That there is in Belloc a considerable degree of romanticization of this period goes without question, and there were many in his day who attacked him for it: those for whom the medieval period was largely one of squalor, superstition, and feudal tyranny, and for whom the Renaissance and the Reformation were the nurturing grounds of freedom and enlightenment. And yet, romanticism accepted, it has to be admitted that Belloc’s view of the social and economic character of the Middle Ages, and his view of the real effects of the Renaissance and the Reformation, have had some measure of confirmation in the scholarship of recent decades. We are no longer as prone as were so many of Belloc’s contemporaries to equate medievalism with evil and modernity with goodness.

It should not be concluded from Belloc’s Catholicism and veneration of the Middle Ages that he was a conservative. He declared himself to the left of liberalism. He greatly admired William Cobbett, the early nineteenth-century English radical who also fought for the property rights of the masses. Yet Cobbett’s political beliefs had been formed by no less a mind than Edmund Burke. Burke, as we know, had little liking for the “new dealers” of finance, as he called them in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke is by now well established as the father of modern conservatism, but it is well to recall that he supported the American colonists and those in both India and Ireland who sought to repulse British domination. His attack on the French revolutionaries was based entirely upon what he saw as the expropriation of property from church, guild, and landowner, and upon the growth of “arbitrary power” in the name of the people. Burke, in short, was anything but a Tory in his day, and his love of liberty was uncompromising.

There is a strong element of Burke’s philosophy in Belloc, as there is indeed in the writings of many in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose fundamental devotion to tradition and to continuity did not preclude their hostility to all forms of large-scale organization—economic, religious, or political—in which the liberty and security of individuals were sacrificed. I do not hesitate to declare that, Roman Catholic faith aside, there is little to separate Belloc’s social and economic views from those of Thomas Jefferson, who also feared, in the name of individual liberty, the great cities, industries, and bureaucracies which he saw forming in Europe. Some readers of this book may, by virtue of their own definition of “capitalism,” take umbrage at Belloc’s indictment of it, but they should understand that Belloc’s great love was the widest possible distribution in a population of individual, private property, and the freedom to use this property as its owner saw fit. Some would define capitalism with its free market in precisely these terms but, as I have noted, for Belloc capitalism denoted first the kind of monopolistic expropriations that went with the early Tudor kings and second the growth of large-scale, corporate, property-aggregating industry, which with its conversion of so many individuals into a propertyless condition left them wide open to the advances of collectivism and the servile state. But if Belloc disliked the capitalism of his time, he loathed and feared the kinds of opposition to and controls on capitalism which were the substance of Lloyd George’s “liberal” reforms in England reforms which were forming the very warp of the servile state in their restrictions upon individual economic liberty.

What Belloc desired and tirelessly advocated was a political-economic system that he called distributivism. This was a doctrine that enlisted the energies of the brilliant G.K. Chesterton (whose own conversion to Roman Catholicism stemmed largely from Belloc’s influence) and a few other minds of stature. Under this system, all people would own property, would be self-supporting and therefore free and able to fend for themselves against efforts of governments to constrict freedom through passage of coercive laws in the name of humanitarianism and social security. Distributivism means free individuals and families, with none supporting others, and with the state adapted to the requirements of economic freedom rather than the reverse, which, as I have noted, Belloc saw as the very substance of English history from the Tudors on.

Belloc does not tell us, alas, how distributivism is to be brought about how it is to be generated amid the oppressions and regimentations of modern political and economic life. This may be one of the reasons why his and Chesterton’s advocacy of their ideal was relatively unsuccessful.

The larger reason, though, lies clearly in the popularity in the early part of the century of doctrines like those of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and the many others who were able to make Fabian socialism and its numerous offshoots so attractive to intellectuals and to many of the leaders of the emerging Labor Party in England. The tactical advantage enjoyed by any of the conventional forms of socialism, whether Fabian or Marxian, is that these are, one and all, constructed to the realities of the modern, national, collectivist political state. It is interesting to know that side by side with Belloc’s distributivism were movements such as guild socialism and syndicalism, which also took from the Middle Ages many of their values and ideas, and which also opposed, as conventional socialism and social democracy did not, the centralized, collectivist political state. But these movements were scarcely more successful in attracting followers than distributivism. The hard truth is, the first half of the present century has to be seen as the period in which everything Belloc shows us to have begun in the Reformation—creation of the propertyless masses and of the despotic natonal state—ripened. Whether in the totalitarianisms of Russia or other countries or in the “democratic socialisms” of Sweden and England or in the “planned economies” we associate with such enterprises as the American New Deal, it is the state, the bureaucratic state, that plainly triumphed. Whether in the name of communism, fascism, or the planned economy, what we have seen, as James Burnham phrased it a full generation ago, is the managerial state. Such a state rests economically only upon its capacity for taking wealth from large numbers of people as the means of supporting, and thus subordinating, the rising number of those who are in a real sense parasites. Such a state is precisely what Belloc means by the servile state.

If the greatness of a book had to be assessed by the criterion of success in effecting large-scale changes in society, then The Servile State would have to be pronounced a failure. But, then, so would Aristotle’s Politics, More’s Utopia, Adam Smith’s (so often misunderstood) The Wealth of Nations, The Federalist—from whose republican, decentralist ideals we have fallen so far—Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, William Graham Sumner’s The Forgotten Man, and Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy the State, to name but a few over a long period of time. Happily, we do not measure classics by their power to effect major changes in governmental or economic policy. We do so, rather, by their perceived qualities of insight, wisdom, and idealism, and their capacity to illuminate reality, to point out the difference between the vital and the ephemeral, and to save us from sophistical beliefs. Great books are beacons.

Even though despotism in its many forms were to spread farther across the world than it has, even if what Belloc called the servile state were to become total reality in America, we should still have in our libraries, I pray, those books which allow us to know the truth, to know what the requirements of a free society actually are. The Servile State is one of these books, and no one wholly acquainted with its contents could very easily be made, it seems to me, the willing, the complaisant subject of such a state.

In that fact lies a great deal of hope for us. For who knows—who can ever know for sure?—the national-collective state brought into the Western world in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, only slightly moderated by documents such as the Constitution of the United States, may well be entering a period of demise. I do not predict this. There are too many evidences left of countertendency, of increasing political-bureaucratic despotism. But the fact remains, occasional great crises, turning points, appear in mankind’s history. One of these was the fall of imperial, bureaucratic Rome in the West, an eventuality few Romans could have dreamed of a century or so before it came about. A totally different kind of society succeeded imperial Rome in the West, one that, with all its imperfections and hardships, produced one of the genuinely great renascences of world history, that of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. For all its power over human lives, the kind of centralized bureaucratized state we have produced in the twentieth century plainly has its problems. Signs mount that it is suffering the kind of distrust, animosity, outright hatred that always presages crisis in a large institution. New specters hang over the land which, bizarre though some may be, indicate spreading disillusionment with the servile state. One can never be sure in these matters, but I am not without hope that The Servile State, if it is read as widely and deeply as it should be read, may yet prove to be more than a classic may prove to be a force in the transformation of society.


Conversion to Roman Catholicism

Another important part of Parkes' life story was her path to the Roman Catholic Church, to which she converted in 1864. After growing up in a radical Unitarian household Parkes, was familiar with Scripture from a young age. As she grew older Parkes found herself becoming more and more devout in the Christian faith. Comparing her earlier poetry to her later works, there are many Biblical references appearing while she was still a Unitarian, which only became more prominent as Parkes reached older age.

She kept up with events occurring in the Oxford Movement, but what impressed her was the social work carried out by Catholic nuns. She knew three English Cardinals personally, and recalled them in her writings.


The papers of Bessie Rayner Parkes were purchased by Girton College from Elizabeth Iddesleigh, Dowager Countess of Iddesleigh, and Mrs Susan Lowndes Marques, granddaughters of BRP, in 1982. Two further additions of papers found by Lady Iddesleigh were made in 1984 and 1985. Any item in the catalogue whose reference code is suffixed with the letter a is part of the later deposits.

As at Sep 2008 an online catalogue was available at http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/ [The typed lists and card indexes compiled from 1985 onwards were converted into a database in Microsoft Access in 2001.]


Bessie Rayner Belloc - History

By Pope Pius XI, Belloc was decorated with the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1934 for his services to Catholicism as a writer.

To Hilaire Belloc this generation owes a big glimpse of the Homeric spirit. His mission is to flay alive the humbugs and hypocrites and the pedants and to chant robust folk-songs to the naked stars of the English world to a rousing obligato of clinking flagons.
A Critic’s Perception of Hilaire Belloc

Hilaire Belloc, a lord of the English language, was not an Englishman by birth. His father was French, his mother was Irish and when he married, his bride was an American. But he looked more like the traditional figure of John Bull than any Englishman could. He wore a stand-up collar several sizes too large for him. His rotund head was crowned with a black hat-sometimes tall, sometimes of the pancake variety. He was big and stocky and red of face and a typically British great-coat draped his beefy form except in the warmest weather.

Hilaire Belloc was born at La Celle, near Paris, on July 27, 1870. His father, Louis Swanton Belloc, was well known as a barrister throughout France. Bessie Rayner Belloc, his mother, was of Irish extraction. Somewhere in his immediate background was an infusion of Pennsylvania Dutch blood. His mother, who lived into her nineties and died in 1914, was a remarkably intellectual woman, noted as one of the signers of the first petition ever presented for women’s suffrage.

Her son studied at the Oratory School at Edgebaston, England, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he matriculated in 1893. In his third year he was Blackenbury History Scholar and an honor student in the history schools.

Between Oratory School and his matriculation at Oxford, Belloc served in the French Army, where as a driver in the Eighth Regiment of Artillery, he was stationed at Toul. It was from this spot that, years later, he was to set forth on the pilgrimage afoot to St. Peter’s that furnished material for the book that many critics consider his best, The Path to Rome.

Hilaire Belloc: Autographed Copy of The Path To Rome, Published 1905

In 1903 Belloc became a British subject and in 1906 was returned to Parliament by the South Salford constituency. He was a member of the Liberal party in the brilliant House of Commons created by the Tory debacle of the preceding year. He made his maiden speech in the House early in 1906 and it won him an immediate reputation as a brilliant orator. He had already attracted considerable attention during his campaign. In the year of his return to Parliament he was also the nominee of the British Bishops to the Catholic Education Council.

Belloc’s literary career began immediately after Balliol. He rapidly achieved success as a newspaper and magazine writer and as a light versifier. His first book, published in the year of his graduation, was Verses and Sonnets, and The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts, in which his reputation as a master of whimsy was fully established.

Belloc sat in the House of Commons from 1906 to 1910, but refused to serve a second term because, in his own words, he was weary of the party system, and thought he could attack politics better from without Parliament than from within. From that time on he devoted his entire efforts to writing and lecturing.

Belloc’s wife, the former Elodie Agnes Hogan of Napa, California, whom he married in 1896, died in 1914. He never remarried. His eldest son, Louis, was killed while serving as a flier in World War I, and his youngest, Peter, a captain of the Royal Marines, died during World War II. Belloc made his home with his elder daughter, Mrs. Eleanor Jebb, wife of a member of Parliament, in Horsham, Sussex. Besides Eleanor, he had another daughter, Elizabeth, a poet, as well as another son, Hilary, who lives in Canada.

In the same year, his alma mater, Oxford, conferred upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts. He shared with the then British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, the distinction of being the only persons to have their portraits hung in the National Portrait Gallery while they were alive.

Mr. Belloc visited the United States on many occasions. In 1937 he served as a visiting Professor of History at the Graduate School of Fordham University in New York. From the matter of these lectures came his book, The Crisis of Civilization.

A prolific writer, he was the author of 153 books of essays, fiction, history, biography, poetry and light verse as well as a vast amount of periodical literature. He was largely responsible for G. K. Chesterton’s conversion to Catholicism, and the two of them became ranked as not only among England’s greatest writers but as the most brilliant lay expounders of Catholic doctrine. The two were also close friends and frequent collaborators, especially on the magazine which came to be known as G. K’s. Weekly, and in which they came to wage many a valiant crusade together. As a critic noted: To Hilaire Belloc this generation owes big glimpses of the Homeric spirit. His mission is to flay alive the humbugs and hypocrites and the pedants and to chant robust folk-songs to the naked stars of the English world to a rousing obligato of clinking flagons.

Because of his antagonism to many British sacred cows and his free and caustic criticism of them, he was not a wholly popular man in England. Nor did his espousal of the Franco cause against the Communists during the Spanish civil war add to his popularity there. But Belloc had never been a man to purchase popularity at the price of integrity.

Just four days before his eighty-third birthday, while dozing before the fireplace in his daughter’s home, he fell into the flames and was so badly burned that he died in hospital at Guildford, Surrey, soon afterward on July 16, 1953.

Despite his own prediction to the contrary, his place in English letters is forever secure, primarily as a poet and as the author of The Path to Rome.


Friendships

Bessie Rayner Parkes’ wide circle of literary and political friends included George Eliot, Harriet Martineau, Anna Jameson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Elizabeth Blackwell, Lord Shaftesbury, Herbert Spencer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Thackeray, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, John Ruskin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Her most fruitful friendship was with Barbara Bodichon, for out of their joint efforts grew the first organized women’s movement in Britain.


Bessie Rayner Belloc - History

[This document comes from Helena Wojtczak's English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany , which the author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web . Click on the title to obtain the original site, which has additional information.]

The author of the following extracts, Bessie Rayner Parkes, later Madame Belloc (1828-1925), came from a family of political radicals. Her grandfather was a leading Dissenter, her father a reforming politician.

A feminist and suffragist, Bessie's greatest passion was women's access to education and the professions. In 1858 she became editor of The Englishwoman's Review , which she co-founded with Barbara Bodichon. In 1867, she married Louis Belloc and both of their children became famous: their daughter was the novelist Marie Belloc-Lowndes their son the writer and MP Hilaire Belloc. Ironically, he strongly and publicly opposed women having either education or the vote.

Hastings was not then what it is now the old town was widely separated from St. Leonards, and the lanes leading up to Ore Church were lanes of deep country seclusion. It was here, in 1846-7, that I first heard of the Howitts as a family. Mrs. Howitt's tales and poems had, of course, been familiar to me from early childhood, more especially the exquisite "Sketches from Natural History," containing that ballad beginning "Will you walk into my parlour, said the Spider to the Fly," which has become so much a classic phrase that I have seen it quoted in prose in a political leader, without any reference to the authoress, or to the fact that the quotation formed part of a verse.

If on the one hand we were all full of the distinguished authoress, and her charming eldest daughter Anna Mary, on the other hand here is Mrs. Howitt's allusion to the Leigh Smiths, which will explain a reference in one of her future letters to me. She describes the group of five, of whom the eldest was then eighteen, and the youngest twelve speaks of their carriages and horses, and outdoor life, and of how "Every year their father takes them a journey. He has a large carriage built like an omnibus, in which they and their servants can travel and in it, with four horses, they make long journeys. This year they were in Ireland, and next year I expect they will go into Italy. Their father dotes on them. They take with them books and sketching materials and they have every advantage which can be obtained them, whether at home or abroad. Such were and are our friends the Leigh Smiths, and thou canst imagine how much pleasure we were likely to derive from such a family."

In 1855 "Anna Mary and Barbara" go off to Hastings, and get lodged in Clive Vale Farm, [Ann Samworth's] the place where Holman Hunt had painted his famous picture of the sheep upon the downs. He had made a great mess with his oils upon a certain table, which gave pleasure to the artists who were following in his footsteps!

Further readings

The whole of "In A Walled Garden" is available at the Victorian Women's Writer's Project.

A short biography of Bessie Rayner Parkes can be found at Spartacus Schoolnet.


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